What Cameron admitted in 2011-12
‘The relationship did get unhealthy. It was too close and, as I have put it, too much time was spent courting the media and not enough time was spent confronting the problems [caused by the industry]’ –13 July 2011, House of Commons
‘We have all suffered from this [unethical journalism], and the fact is that we have all been too silent about it. Your bins are gone through by some media organisation but you hold back from dealing with it because you want good relations with the media. We need some honesty . . .’ – 13 July 2011, House of Commons
‘The relationship became too close in that the politicians were spending a lot of time trying to get their message across and win support, but the issues of regulation were being put on the back burner’ – 13 July 2011, House of Commons
‘Where it has gone wrong is where politicians start doing things, perhaps influenced by those media companies, that they would not otherwise do’ – 13 July 2011, House of Commons
‘The necessary relationship between senior politicians and the media . . . can also lead to the public perception that media proprietors and senior media figures in general, or specific individuals in particular, can have too loud a voice in the country’s politics’ – Statement to Leveson Inquiry, June 2012
Asked whether he had personally became ‘too close’ to leading Murdoch company executives, David Cameron replied: ‘Yes’ – 6 September 2011, Parliamentary Liaison Committee
What Cameron promised
‘The relationship between politicians and the media must change’ –13 July 2011, House of Commons
‘I think the relationship between politics and media needs resetting, and I think there is an opportunity for this Parliament to do that’ – 6 September 2011, Parliamentary Liaison Committee
This ‘resetting’, he promised in 2011, would be delivered in two ways: better press regulation [Read about his promises on this here] and more transparency.
‘I will be consulting the Cabinet Secretary on an amendment to the ministerial code to require Ministers to record all meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, senior editors and executives, regardless of the nature of the meeting. Permanent secretaries and special advisers will also be required to record such meetings. This information should be published quarterly’ – 13 July 2011, House of Commons
‘The links between senior politicians and media should be open to public scrutiny and examination. Such an approach makes clear to the public the extent and nature of important contacts’ – June 2012, Leveson Inquiry written statement
What has changed? Nothing
There is every reason to fear that the excessive closeness and influence Cameron spoke of in 2011 have simply continued.
Just last December David Cameron attended a Christmas party given by Rupert Murdoch at his London home. Also present were George Osborne, John Whittingdale (the Culture Secretary) and other ministers and leading Conservatives.
Back in 2011 Cameron said of Murdoch’s UK operations: ‘What has happened at this company is disgraceful. It has got to be addressed at every level.’ And he declared: ’There needs to be root-and-branch change at this entire organisation . . .’
Five years on, though the Murdoch press has refused to participate in effective, independent press self-regulation as Leveson recommended, and though there has been nothing resembling root-and-branch change, Cameron is happy to drink Murdoch’s wine again.
Cameron’s personal friend Rebekah Brooks is back running the company that hacked phones and bribed officials and James Murdoch has also returned to his post as boss of Sky. Everything here suggests that Cameron’s words of 2011 were just words, and the risk to the public from this closeness remains.
As for transparency, the benefits for the public are slender at best. We know that Cameron admits to meeting either Murdoch in person or his executives or editors no fewer than seven times between June and December last year, but we don’t know what was discussed.
For example, did the Prime Minister spend time confronting the problems of the industry and exerting pressure on them to embrace effective regulation –both matters he said had been neglected by ‘too close’ politicians in the past? We have no idea.
Then there is Mr Osborne, who also meets Mr Murdoch a good deal and whose conversations with him are not minuted either.
As Transparency International put it, in a country where 59 per cent of people think the government works in the interest of a few big organisations, that is not good enough.
Finally, some ministers make a mockery even of the minimal transparency requirements placed on them. Nine months sometimes passes before supposedly quarterly reports are made public.